Kindergartners Benjamin and Daniel used to take naps on their 30-minute-plus bus rides between Omondale School in Portola Valley and their homes in East Palo Alto.
Not any longer. Now the identical twins say they read for the entire bus ride, on Kindles the district has loaned to them for just that purpose.
"I downloaded more books!" Daniel excitedly told Ormondale principal Kevin Keegan on a recent Friday afternoon as he headed for the bus. The boys said they had found seven books on Egypt and another on Pompei. "We're really into Egypt," Benjamin said. "We have chapter books!"
What has the twins so excited is the school's "Learning Bus" pilot program. The school purchased, using less than $4,000 in regular district funds, 29 Kindles, one for every East Palo Alto and Belle Haven student who has a long school commute. That includes students whose parents drive them to school, as well as those who ride the bus.
Reading software, called MyON, on the Kindles tailors book recommendations for each student, based on tests that gauged their reading level and interests. The software records how long each student spends reading each book.
The results are impressive.
In the five weeks since the program began, Mr. Keegan said, the 29 students with Kindles have read 1,603 books totaling 179 hours of reading. Among them: Onamika, a third-grader, has read 71 books and read for 23 hours; Michelle, a second-grader, 39 books and seven hours; Paulina, a third-grader, 34 books and nine hours; and Jose, a third-grader, 41 books and seven hours.
Fatima, a third-grader who has read 73 books and read for 10 hours, shyly admitted that she had forgotten her Kindle that day and said, "I'm not sure what I'm going to do" on the bus.
"It's very cool that I get to read a lot of books," Fatima said, adding that before she got the Kindle she didn't have much time to read at home.
The Kindles have other educational software installed for subjects such as math.
The students received the Kindles at a family night at which Mr. Keegan said they talked about proper use and care of the electronics. The students will be allowed to keep them until they leave Ormondale, and are encouraged to use them over the summer and on weekends. So far, none have been damaged.
Evelyn Luis, Ormondale's office secretary, said her two children are part of the program and love it. "Not only are they learning ... the time on the bus seems much shorter to them," she said.
Mr. Keegan said that if the pilot program continues to be successful it will be expanded to Corte Madera School.